Dvorak wrote more than the New World Symphony, and tiny Finland is one of the most musical countries on the planet with 15 symphony orchestras compared to Ireland’s two.
These are just a couple of the things you’ll learn — and hear — when the Winston-Salem Symphony presents “Sibelius’ Violin Concerto,” a Classic Series concert, on March 8 and 10 at the Stevens Center.
Timothy Redmond, the symphony’s new music director, will conduct, and violinist Rachel Barton Pine will be the guest artist. Pine, 45, is considered a leading interpreter of the great classical masterworks.
She was seeing her daughter’s vocal teacher out when the Journal reached her by phone at her home in Chicago on Friday. Pine was getting ready for 15 days on the road in a swing that will take her to Florida, Arizona and Florida, with Winston-Salem sandwiched in next weekend.
Jean Sibelius became a composer only after failing to achieve his dream of playing violin with the Vienna Philharmonic. Instead of becoming a violin star, he composed one of the most treasured pieces in the violin repertoire, his Violin Concerto in D Minor, op. 47, and his name became synonymous with his country of origin, Finland.
“Sibelius is the most famous Finn ever, and Dvorak is the best known Czech,” Redmond said. “They were writing at a time when their nations were building their identities.” Finland became independent from Russia in 1917, the First Czechoslovak Republic was 1918–1938.
“Sibelius was an artist who wasn’t all that good as a violinist,” Pine said. “He was one of the world’s great composers, but I think he had a little bit of angst about the fact he couldn’t play on the violin himself what he was envisioning it to sound like. You can almost feel that in the concerto. There’s a sense of struggle and perhaps even an admission ‘I can’t do this, so let’s see you guys try.’”
Pine said that she could understand Sibelius’ frustration, and while she didn’t exactly have a Plan B, she made sure that she had a varied education. “I always wanted to be a soloist, but I studied orchestra playing, chamber playing, the possibility of being a professor,” she said. “It takes more to succeed that just being qualified. There’s also luck and connections.
“Even now, I do a lot of educating when I am on the road.”
Both Redmond and Pine mentioned the wintry nature of the Sibelius violin concerto.
“Right from the beginning you are in the frozen icy North,” Redmond said.
“In the opening, you hear and almost see the icy winter landscapes and imagine the snow-covered fir trees way up north there,” Pine said. “It’s such a powerful piece and it’s been a favorite of mine since I first learned it when I was 13.”
Book-ending the program are two pieces by Czech composers: Bedřich Smetana’s “Vltava” (The Moldau), named for the river that runs through Prague, the Czech capital; and Antonín Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major, op. 60, B. 112.
“This concert is the perfect way to herald the end of winter,” Redmond said. “Audience members will feel their spirits lightened and lifted by these magical pieces, from Smetana’s lively and lyrical “Vltava” to Dvořák’s magnificent and delightful Symphony No. 6.
“’Vltava’ takes the listener on a little voyage through Czech history and places. You see things going on — a party, a storm; it’s a charming little story.
“I added the Dvorak to the program, because it’s a favorite of mine — full of water and sunshine. Dvorak wrote other wonderful pieces besides the ‘New World.’
“Sibelius’ Violin Concerto is a towering masterpiece replete with both fireworks and achingly beautiful passages. The opportunity to hear Rachel Barton Pine ... perform this piece is an opportunity not to be missed. She’s a superstar. I’m really excited to work with her.”
Pine’s passion for music extends to all kinds. She and daughter, Sylvia, 8, go to jam sessions at a Scottish pub on Tuesday nights when they are in Chicago.
“We’ve been Scottish fiddlers, but I started to get a sense of all the different flavors of American fiddling,” Pine said. “I recently found a great old-time fiddle teacher for my daughter, and I’ve been practicing alongside her. We love that kind of stuff.”
Her interest in all aspects of music has led her to promote the music of African American classical composers, as well.
In 2018 Pine’s RBP Foundation released “Music by Black Composers (MBC) Violin Volume I,” the first in a series of pedagogical books of music exclusively by global black classical composers, and the “MBC Coloring Book of Black Composers.”
“Growing up in Chicago, I was luck to to be exposed to this music at a young age,” she said. “Being aware of this music and becoming more involved in advocacy, I realized that the music was not out their for these populations to access it.
“Most people don’t know that Coretta Scott King and Frederick Douglas played violin. It’s important for children to have access to this music. I had already started a foundation for a young artists program, and this was a natural thing to add to it.”
When not teaching, performing or running her foundation, Pine practices with her daughter, hangs out with friends and family. Even when she’s working, she finds time for sight-seeing, outdoor recreation, museums and going to concerts, not just classical concert. She’s a big heavy metal fan.
“The last heavy metal concert I went to was Anthrax,” she said. “I’m able to have a full and varied life beyond the concert stage.”
“Sibelius’ Violin Concerto is definitely one of the most beloved of all violin concertos, and for good reason,” she said. “It’s really beautiful and exciting. It’s an especially good piece of music for people who might not be quite as familiar with classical music. It’s easily accessible, but also highly dramatic. It grabs you in a way that makes you excited to listen to it. The last movement has a rhythmic drive and the first movement is extremely powerful. It has a very unique personality.”
“Sibelius was dark and had lots of depression, but what you get with Sibelius is so well-considered,” Remond said. “Having started in this dark way, you have this wonderful exuberant finale.”
Some of the Sibelius will sound familiar, because it is rooted in folk culture, Redmond said.
Her 2019-20 season includes a residency with the Singapore Symphony, performances with the Royal Scottish National and Seattle Baroque Orchestras, and the Tel Aviv Soloists. In recital, she has appearances at Lincoln Center with Matthew Hagle, and she and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour will perform in concerts presented by the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Early Music Society. Her November 2019 Avie recording of the Dvorak and Khachaturian Violin Concertos with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conductor Teddy Abrams highlights the influence of each composer’s local ethnic music.